When ignorance is far from bliss

17 Sep

Dancing_maenad_Python_BM_VaseF253Last night I saw the new production of Euripides’ Bakkhai , translated by Anne Carson, at London’s Almeida Theatre. Pentheus the young king of Thebes is trying to suppress a new religion that is sweeping like wildfire through his land. His own mother Agave is the leader of a host of women who have streamed out of the city to worship the wonderful young god Dionysus in the wild. When Agave returns to the city in triumph bearing aloft the head of a lion that she has hunted down in the mountains, her old father Cadmus confronts her. You have to face up to what you have done, he tells her. If you don’t, you will be unhappy but you won’t know it. 

Do we believe that a woman like Agave should  be left in blissful ignorance? Should we let her enjoy her moment of joy,  even though most of us could never consider her to be truly happy?  Or do we inform her that she is in fact the most wretched of women, since she hasn’t just slaughterd a lion – as she believes in her ecstasy –  but her own son Pentheus? 

Some forms of happiness just cannot be tolerated, it seems – not because we have outraged the rest of society, but because we have done something which one part of our being would lament to its deepest core. We have to recognise the true nature of our actions. We cannot simply live in the ignorant moment.

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